HONG KONG – Several places in the world mark a single date seismic events that were considered a turning point in recent history, such as the September 11 attacks in the United States or the November 9 fall of the Berlin Wall of Europe. For post-colonial Hong Kong, the turning point fell on August 31, 2014.
It was then that a top Chinese government body announced a plan for limited democracy in Hong Kong. Beijing's decision fell significantly below what Democrats demanded that summer, triggering a two-month occupation of several Hong Kong neighborhoods known as the Umbrella Movement.
Hong Kong authorities have refused to give the protesters permission, and increased the possibility of a repeat clash should the demonstration be held. Authorities rejected an appeal on Friday, and march organizers canceled the demonstration after failing to gain approval, although people are likely to protest in other ways.
What was the decision?
The Standing Committee on China's Rubber Stamp Legislature, the National People's Congress, passed a law five years ago on Saturday that would have allowed all Hong Kong-based adults to vote on who will be the next the top commander of the semi-autonomous Chinese territory. But that came with a catch: Beijing wanted tight control over who could run.
An election committee of 1,200 members stacked with Beijing loyalists is currently electing CEO. The decision on August 31 would allow the committee to select only candidates, and then allow the public to vote on those candidates. But opponents thought it meant Beijing would still elect its leader. And Beijing admittedly said that whoever won the public vote still had to be appointed to the job as the chief of government by China's national government.
The Standing Committee's statement did not become Hong Kong law because pro-democracy lawmakers in the Hong Kong Legislature blocked its approval in 2015. So the same 1200-member electoral committee continues to elect the CEO, with the system favoring Beijing candidates . The committee elected Carrie Lam, the sitting one, in 2017, and she won by 777 votes out of the 1,163 votes actually cast.
Why are the protesters upset about it?
Most democratic advocates in Hong Kong have long rejected the decision as worse than nothing. "The decision of August 31 is completely unacceptable to the people of Hong Kong," said Bonnie Leung, vice-president of one of the main protest groups, the Civil Human Rights Front, which had organized Saturday's demonstration. "The CEO would have millions of votes, not a handful, but they will still be picked out of Beijing."
Ms. Lamb, now Hong Kong's chief executive and former territory's top official, tried to find a compromise during the umbrella movement. Her compromise would have changed the composition of the nomination committee, especially by reducing the large number of seats reserved for farmers and fishermen. Farming and fishing now represent a small proportion of Hong Kong's population and economy these days, but these are powerfully pro-Beijing sectors.
But Ms. Lamb's compromise would still have left the Election Committee responsible for who could appear on the ballot paper. Proponents of Democracy rejected her proposals.
Who likes the decision on August 31?
A few centrists in Hong Kong and Western political scientists have suggested that the adoption of the August 31 decision five years ago may have helped the democratic cause and may still be a good alternative for the territory. They claim that even if two or three Beijing allies appeared on a ballot to vote for all the people of Hong Kong, these candidates would become less pro-Beijing during the campaign. They can compete with each other to promise more democracy, to get the most votes from the public.
"If they want to win a popular election, they would have to adopt politics closer to the political center," said David Zweig, longtime political scientist at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.
The decision of August 31, Beijing finally expresses who will become CEO. After the parliamentary elections, Beijing would decide whether to appoint the winner of the parliamentary elections to become CEO. If a candidate became too critical of Beijing during an election campaign, or promised too much, that candidate might not be appointed, said Lau Siu-kai, vice president of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies, an elite, semi-official advisory body created by Beijing.
"Beijing will not allow any person who appears to place responsibility on the Hong Kong people over his responsibility to Beijing," Lau said.
Does Beijing still support the decision? [19659006AvgjørelsenforfemårsidenvaretkompromissiBeijingmellommoderatersomvarvilligetilåtolererenoedemokratiiHongKongoghardlineresomermindrevilligetilåtillatedetKompromissethaddesommålågålangtnokforåmøteHongKong-demokratietskravomåavvergeentruetokkupasjonavgatenedenhøsten-etmålkompromissetfullstendigikkeklarteåoppnå
Hong Kong has changed since then, with protesters more willing to resort to violence. But Beijing has also changed since then. President Xi Jinping had been in office for less than two years at the time of the permanent committee's decision, and was still consolidating power.
In the years since, he has abolished a constitutional limit on two terms as president, so that he could remain indefinitely. He has replaced almost all top military and security officials with people who are loyal to him. Human rights lawyers have been sentenced to lengthy prison terms, and much stricter checks have been put on Internet use in mainland China.
Democratic advocates still hope Beijing will make them a better offer. "I hope Beijing will understand if you make an admission, it is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of a great power," said Emily Lau, a Democratic lawmaker.
However, some Beijing leaders on Hong Kong politics have begun to question whether there is a need for concession to democracy advocates, such as allowing elections to Beijing with control over who is a candidate, anymore.
Lau Siu-kai said that because the Standing Committee has never rescinded the decision, it remains on the books and in theory available to Hong Kong.
"It is still available because it is the national law," he said, adding that "I do not see this as a possibility at all, that 8/31 would be accepted by the Democrats."